After I had paid a visit to my parents’ house for dinner the other night, my dad and I sat down to watch some TV. He fired up his on-demand and played a broadcast of the USA Nationals from Cedar Lake Speedway. In the opening cut scenes there were sights of fans crowding the concourse area and souvenir trailers with lines. Immediately my dad posed the question. “What are they doing that asphalt racing isn’t doing?”
What spawned from that was a mini-conversation regarding some of the things we thought gave dirt an advantage over asphalt – at least in the fan department. It was also the inspiration for this particular column. Unfortunately – or fortunately, depending on how you view it – my dad and I don’t disagree on much. It isn’t often that you’ll get a lively debate as we pretty much think alike.
Before I get into some of my ramblings of asphalt racing versus dirt racing, I’ll pass on a few caveats. 1) This is my opinion based on things I’ve seen and experienced. Right, wrong, or indifferent, it’s just a few observations. 2) I grew up watching asphalt racing (which is odd because my dad was a dirt racer). Because of this, I have much more time spent at asphalt tracks. It doesn’t mean I don’t like dirt, it just means that I’ve been to more asphalt races. Over the past few years, my dirt experiences have been growing.
So here we go with the ramblings…
I sometimes hear people say dirt racing is more exciting than asphalt racing. They say asphalt racing is all single-file and dirt racing is exciting because there are multiple grooves and the track changes all the time. Well, I’ll be completely honest. You’ll see more grooves and more volatility at a dirt track, but you won’t stop an asphalt race program to bring out the grader and water truck. It’s just the nature of the beast. One night at a dirt track the top groove will be good, the next week the bottom will be good, the following week could see three equal lanes of racing. There is usually a distinct line (or two) at the asphalt track and a few cars that can make the other line work.
So does that make dirt racing more exciting? It certainly lends the opportunity for it. On the flip side, I saw some pretty exciting asphalt races this year where the leader was chased down and passed on the last lap. On the dirt it’s pretty thrilling to see three Modifieds using different grooves going for the lead or slicing through the pack. But the unfortunate reality is that you don’t see that every week at every track and it all comes down to two things – track prep and luck. If your crew is really good and creates an excellent surface every week, you probably have pretty exciting racing every week. Sometimes there are just those nights that things don’t work. Regardless of surface nothing beats good competition.
One point that is hard to argue (at least in my region) is that there are more dirt cars than asphalt cars. A major reason for that is the number of dirt tracks far outweighs the number of asphalt tracks. But, in my eyes, the biggest reason is rules. You may love them or you may hate them, but organizations like IMCA, UMP, and USRA are something that could be a big help for asphalt. Asphalt could even look at how all of the 410 Sprint Car Series and Late Model divisions on dirt work together. Quite simply, a universal set of rules allow drivers to race in more places and do it without spending the time and money to convert their car from track to track. It sounds simple, but there are various different reasons asphalt tracks tweak their rules to be different.
A happy racer is a racer who keeps coming back. Some of the happiest racers I meet are dirt racers who have the chance to race at a few different places and have some fun. With that being said, there have been some big steps in recent years to get back to rules that are close and Late Model counts on the asphalt here in the Midwest have been coming back. It’s pretty hard not to get excited about nearly 70 of the best Super Late Models in the Midwest coming together for the Trickle 99 at Oktoberfest.
Lastly, I’ll circle back to where this whole inspiration began – the fans. At weekly shows (at least by me) the fan counts at asphalt and dirt tracks are pretty equal. We’re spoiled with a lot of good racing and good car counts on both surfaces. However, it never ceases to amaze me how well-attended shows like the World of Outlaws and Lucas Oil Late Models are. Along with that it’s always impressive to see the number of Scott Bloomquist, Jimmy Owens, and Donny Schatz t-shirts.
To me this one is pretty simple. Dirt racing at the grass roots level has more consistency in its star power. This isn’t anything asphalt promoters are doing wrong; it just has to do with the fact that most big-time asphalt racers are trying to get to NASCAR. When Lucas Oil comes to town, you know Scott Bloomquist (who has been winning for a long time) is most likely going to be there. It seems like whenever a young star emerges in racing (look at guys like John Hunter Nemechek and Chase Elliott) they are off to the big leagues in no time flat. As an asphalt fan, it gets frustrating trying to figure out who the new top dog is and how long they will be around. You can’t blame these kids for living the dream, but can you imagine trying to promote a situation where you’re not really sure which stars to offer to the fans? Asphalt racing sure could use a few more rivalries like Richards versus Clanton and Bloomquist versus Davenport. Those high caliber asphalt drivers are out there, it’s just a matter of how long they will be around at the short track level.
Hopefully these ramblings bring some insight into the debate of asphalt versus dirt. Feel free to leave your opinions on the asphalt versus dirt debate. You can drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter @MattPanure.
Until then, as long as it has four wheels and goes fast, I’m happy to watch it.